At the Back Fence Issue #320

October 20, 2008

For Everything, There Is a Season

From the Desk of Laurie Likes Books:

All About Romance “officially” celebrated its tenth anniversary this year and it was important to me that I shepherd the site through this milestone period. My original purpose for AAR was to create a back fence atmosphere for lovers of romance novels. Thatmission has always been at the core of who and what we are; it’s not lip-service that those words are written into the logo that appears atop each page at this site.

I owe the success of AAR during the past decade to the hard work of a highly talented, intelligent, funny, and creative group of volunteers. We are more or less like a family; we don’t always agree and are sometimes messy in our emotions, but we genuinely care about each other. We’ve been through weddings, childbirth, child-rearing, divorce, illness, and death, and throughout it all have lent support wherever possible. It is precisely because these women [and historically, some men] are so very clever and caring, and have such a can-do ethic that my decision to pass them the baton of ownership is an easy one. Blythe, Sandy, Rachel, and Lynn will be splitting the publishing and managerial responsibilities, with the able support of the incredibly talented and hard-working AAR reviewers and staff. The transfer, in the works for some weeks now, will occur on November 1st. Actually, some real changes have already been made. For instance, the reviews finalized this past week were finalized by somebody other than me.

I have no doubt whatsoever that these terrific women will continue this site’s commitment to quality. Indeed, my guess is that the changes they make over time will improve All About Romance, and I look forward to watching them do so. And I will watch…from entirely on the outside. I can’t imagine anything more difficult than moving into a house and having the old owner constantly peeking through the windows. Please extend them some leeway and patience as they learn to navigate the many administrative bits and pieces that until recently resided mostly in my brain. Content is not a problem – at this point I’m more or less a conduit for these talented women – instead they will need to catch up on the technology, the financing, and other managerial matters.

As for me, I will miss everything, from starting the old Prodigy Romance Listserv for the now-defunct online service that transformed over time into AARList – to the camaraderie of the early days when the Internet looked very different than it does now. I actually look back fondly at the outrageous forum discussions about sex in romance that, because of the involvement of “Puzzled” and “Puzzled and Confused,” drew the attention of Salon in the form of a feature article – and another volatile forum discussion that followed commentary I wrote about book promoters who also review books online. And I like to think that I helped educate through stands I took, stories I broke or helped publicize, such as those involving plagiarism victims Nora Roberts, Gina Wilkins, and Linda Turner; de facto, prima facie censorship exercised by major retailers; and how the marketing and shelving of books can have unintended results. I’ve also called the wrath of hell upon AAR simply for calling attention to newspaper articles, and standing behind reviewers who noted similarities in stories…and took hits to my personal reputation as a result.

In the end it was worth it, even when it was very unpleasant, because so much of it pointed to something critical. In order to celebrate the good, we must also examine the bad. Differing viewpoints are not only welcome, but necessary for true communication…even if not everybody “gets” that. I like to think we pioneered the sort of interaction that many of us now take for granted online, but when we first started, providing an interactive format for disagreement was a fairly unique concept – both between the reader and staff but also among staff. I think we did dual reviews first…just as I think we were unique in encouraging readers with minority opinions to speak out and not feel piled on by the majority in return. That’s pretty much why we long-ago devoted commentary on topics such as “Authors others love that you don’t,” and actually give several negative awards in our annual poll.

Though most of AAR’s readers are not castle-loving historians, I’ve never regretted the time I spent putting together the Castle of the Week, part of a larger History and Travel section. I feel badly, though, that the Historical Cheat Sheet has stagnated in recent years, but am incredibly proud of the nearly 80 articles (20 of which were penned by our own Ellen Micheletti!) we’ve provided; they speak to how much interest in history is generated by the reading of romance novels. Yes…I proudly proclaim that much of what I know about history, I learned from reading historical romance.

And then there are this year’s author-penned Epilogue Parodies, which were a great way for me to remember ten hilarious year’s worth of Purple Prose Parodies. Talking to all the authors who wrote testimonials for our tenth anniversary reminded me of all the fun I’ve had getting to know them as a result of interviews, correspondence, and occasional face-to-face meetings. Which, in turn, reminds me of the the secrets authors have revealed to me over the years…for a former blabber-mouth like me, their Big Secrets have rarely been easy to keep, but it’s all been part and parcel of chronicling Romance.

It’s not just authors and AAR colleagues, who have had to put up with ten year’s worth of my red pen, that I’ll miss, it’s all of you as well…it’s that back fence thing again. Some readers have come and gone [and come back again] over time as their interests have changed. Some of you are relative newbies while others moved to AAR with me when I created it. At times you make me laugh and at others I’ve cried as a result of reading something you’ve shared (as with many of your entries in our annual Isn’t It Romantic? Contest). Of course, sometimes you piss me off , but mostly, my cockles are plenty warm when I reflect upon ten-plus years worth of give and take. I thank you for that. I will miss it, I will miss you, and I will miss sharing my love of romance novels with you, even as I know you will continue to gather at AAR’s back fence for a long time to come.

But now it’s time to move on to the next chapter of my life, and whatever that may bring. It’s time for me to retire Laurie Likes Books and return to being Laurie Gold, avid romance reader and private citizen.

So, for the last time…

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